© Can Stock Photo Inc. / marilyna.


Top tips for keeping critters out of your vegetable garden

Story by Rachel Williams

Gardening is harder than it looks … just when we think we know what we’re doing, our beds are attacked by outside forces. How to prevent ultimate defeat? Rather, how to be at war with nature, when you’re trying to be in harmony? Be your garden’s ally – provide adequate reinforcements by instituting an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan using some of these methods. As with insects, our ecosystem is delicate. Please think through your actions carefully – you wouldn’t want to go get your legs waxed and end up leaving with a bald head.

Okay, the bad news first: There’s no such thing as 100 percent pest control. You cannot expect perfection when growing your own vegetables. Taking that into consideration, decide how much damage you – and the plant – can tolerate. 

Holes in the ground made by a chipmunk. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / photosampler.

When it comes to growing to vegetables, you must be proactive. Doing things such as planting extra to feed the trespassers or planting trap crops to distract them. The timing of your plantings is important. If a crop is flexible, grow it when pests are less active. Plant seedlings in containers where they can grow stronger and better able to survive infestations or. Select (devote your space to), more hardy plants. Be patient! Sometimes pests will be a bother for a few years, but then move on. Reduce the attractiveness of your garden by staying on top of weed control, trimming overgrown areas, and removing fallen fruit, nuts, birdseed, and foliage. Harvest your crops as early as possible and fill in empty spaces. 

When it comes to control, the first step MUST be positively identifying the attacker(s). If you’re not sure exactly what is damaging your crops, your local extension office can help – just put the damaged plant in a sealed bag and take it up there. That said, after properly identifying the offender, it is important to act quickly. 

Liquid repellents are best for preventing animals from browsing damage. If a liquid repellent is recommended apply only when temperatures are above 40 F. It’s important to thoroughly spray all parts of the plant, especially the undersides of the leaves. One disadvantage of liquids is that they require frequent re-application, including after every rainfall. Predator urine, such as coyotes and foxes, is said to repel armadillos, deer, domestic cats, gophers, groundhogs, moles, possums, porcupines, rabbits, shrews, voles, and woodchucks. 

Liquid repellents are best for preventing animals from browsing damage. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Accessony.

Granular repellents are best for keeping animals out of areas, such as sprinkling an “invisible fence” around the garden. It may take several applications before the animal will get the hint. 

Motion-activated deterrents, especially sprinklers, will frighten away almost any varmint with startling bursts of water. 

Fencing, though probably the most expensive solution, is nearly unanimously considered the most effective. To keep deer out, the fence must be at least 8 feet tall; to keep burrowing critters out, it must also be 2-3 feet underground. Adding electric wire gives your garden the ultimate level of protection. 

Types of pests, their favorite crops, and how to stop them:

Voles are aboveground herbivores that consume roots and crowns of plants in the ground AND in containers. Moles are underground (therefore easily undetected) insectivores that eat both “good” and “bad bugs.” Their underground tunnels can damage plant roots and leave plants exposed to attack by other animals. 

Chives, garlic, leek, onions, and shallots are good repellent crops. Castor oil has a wide array of uses. Thoroughly mix 8 tablespoons of castor oil, 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, and 1 gallon of water. Pour this mixture into the mole runs. You can also spray this mixture on plants and in areas they are active. 

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / marilyna.
Two woven wooden plant protectors covering organic cabbages, with kohl rabi to the foreground and orange marigolds acting as companion plants to deter pests to the rear. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / marilyna.

Rabbits eat a wide variety of vegetation, especially when food is scarce elsewhere. Rosemary, sage, thyme, and onions are effective repellents and can be planted along with other crops. 

Some gardeners use a hot pepper spray to prevent rabbit munching: Grind jalapeno peppers in a food processor, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time until it’s liquid. Strain out the pepper pieces with cheesecloth into a jar, add a drop of nontoxic school glue and two to three drops of liquid dish soap. This mixture should be stored out of direct sunlight until you’re ready to use it. Before spraying the plants, mix the concentrated liquid with water at a ratio of 1 part pepper liquid to 10 parts water. Allow at least a week between applying the spray and harvesting your crop.

Squirrels are only active during the day. They nibble on flowers and trees and chew on wooden furniture and homes. If you’re sure your problem is squirrels, try wire fencing, netting, or sheet metal. There are also several commercial repellents available. 

Armadillos love to eat grubs and they dig plants up when they are looking for them. Use wood chips around plants and/or fencing at least 1 foot underground. 

Birds can be frightened away by placing materials that make a noise around the garden – wind chimes and aluminum pie pans are popular deterrents.




© Can Stock Photo Inc. /LeniKovaleva
© Can Stock Photo Inc. /LeniKovaleva.

Hot Neighborhood Topic:  How to keep cats out
• Some have reported success after planting rue, lavender, and pennyroyal. 
• Laying chicken wire on top of your soil (cut holes for your plants) – cats don’t like walking on it. 
• Because cats prefer to dig and poop in loose dirt, mulch with sharp-edged pinecones, holly branches, eggshells, or stone mulch. 
• Water guns, blood meal fertilizer, and fruit peels have also been suggested.

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